Ag Weather Forum

Northern Plains, Midwest Digging out of Second Blizzard in a Month

Elaine Shein
By  Elaine Shein , Associate Managing Editor
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NOAA's snowfall analysis of 72-hour accumulation, ending 6 a.m. CDT on April 12, already showed several South Dakota locations at over 2 feet of snow, with snow still coming down Friday. (NOAA graphic)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Ranchers and farmers in parts of the Northern Plains and western Midwest are digging out of the second major blizzard within a month, especially challenging during calving time for cow-calf producers.

NOAA's analysis of the snowfall accumulations from the 72 hours prior to 6 a.m. CDT Friday morning already showed more than 2 feet of snow in some locations.

Some cattle producers in the affected areas shared images on social media of some of the harsh conditions they faced while trying to protect their cattle and help snow-covered cows through calving.

By Friday afternoon, the last of the blizzard and major winter storm warnings were expired, although there was still some light snow in some areas of the Dakotas and Minnesota, and winds of 25-40 mph were still leading to blowing and drifting snow in some places.

TWO-FOLD IMPACT

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Michael Palmerino said the impact from the blizzard and storm was two-fold. "The interesting thing about this storm is that most of the significant precipitation with it was in the form of snow over the northwestern portions of the (Corn) Belt. So, we're looking at anywhere from 6-12 inches of snow over central/western Nebraska, the time you got into South Dakota and on up to central Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota we're looking at about 9-18 inches of snow, and a few areas getting even a little more than that," he said.

"So, we put down more deep snow cover across that northwestern belt, and clearly that's going to keep producers out of the fields, and it also raises the concerns about additional flooding, if more in the way of rain starts to fall back in there. It looks like that potential is there for next week."

ROADS REMAIN CLOSED, CAUTION ADVISED

On Thursday, several highways and interstates had to be closed. High winds during the blizzard and windstorm led to dozens of jackknifed semi-trailers on highways, and police were busy dealing with vehicle crashes.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation on its website (https://www.safetravelusa.com/…) showed some roads still remain closed Friday or with travel not advised, because of snow, ice and limited visibility because of blowing snow. North Dakota also had roads and highways with compacted snow and ice, or wet/slushy conditions. (https://www.dot.nd.gov/…)

Northern Nebraska was also dealing with challenging roads because of snow, ice or slush. (https://hb.511.nebraska.gov/…) Minnesota's transportation department was reporting roads in some areas, especially in the southwestern part of the state and in the northwest parts, being slippery with snow, ice, black ice or slush. (https://hb.511mn.org/…)

The National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, North Dakota, warned in its weather bulletins that it still isn't safe to travel on the roads that are open. "There will be an additional threat from this storm, which is the possibility of sliding off roads into flooded ditches. Hypothermia can set in quickly even this time of the year if a person gets wet."

FLOOD THREATS CONTINUE

There continues to be flood advisories and warnings along the Red River and its tributaries. North Dakota got more snow -- and farther north -- than expected. Moderate-to-heavy snow reached southeast North Dakota, with light-to-moderate snow farther north.

The crest along the Red River is continuing to move northward over eastern North Dakota and is likely to reach into Manitoba in the next week to 10 days, noted DTN's Senior Ag Meteorologist Joel Burgio Friday morning. He said snow in the Fargo area is likely to cause a new crest to occur when it melts, following the current crest. He added that indications are that this new crest will not be as high as the current crest, but will still be in the flood stage.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers are expected to rise as snow melts from this most recent storm.

Tens of thousands of people were without power because of power lines being affecting by wind knocking down trees and ice accumulations in some areas. While a lot of the power was restored by mid-Friday afternoon, there still remained some customers, especially in Minnesota and Michigan, waiting for power to be restored after the storm.

HEAVY RAINS AVOIDED

While the big storm had been predicted for several days by the jet stream models, the powerful storm didn't deliver the heavy rains it had first threatened.

"That was really the big surprise of this storm," said Palmerino, "is that the areas where it did fall as rain, most of the areas in the Western (Corn) Belt, you know, areas like Iowa, and even virtually nothing in Missouri, most of the rainfall was under a quarter of an inch in Iowa, and only a quarter to three-quarters of an inch in the Eastern Corn Belt," he said.

"So, they really dodged a bullet in terms of, you know, not getting enough rain to cause any additional flooding. Unfortunately, the forecast looking out over the next seven days is not looking too favorable, and I think we will be talking about flooding once again."

UPCOMING STORMS ADD TO SOIL MOISTURE

Palmerino said there is another storm already on the horizon. A weekend system, mostly concentrated on Sunday, is mostly on the southern and eastern areas of the Corn Belt.

He estimated it would be 1-2 inches of rain, from Missouri into the Eastern Corn Belt.

The weekend storm is also expected to bring moderate-to-heavy rain or showers and thunderstorms into the Delta region this weekend and again during the middle of next week. There is some risk for severe weather as well with the system from Saturday afternoon into Sunday night -- this could include heavy rain, damaging winds, hail, as well as tornadoes. The region has mostly surplus soil moisture with a significant risk of severe flooding. Delays to seasonal fieldwork appear likely.

"The good news is that the northwestern Corn Belt will miss this storm," Palmerino said.

The bad news is that other storm coming Wednesday/Thursday that is leading to concern for potential flooding in that part of the Corn Belt.

Palmerino said there is the potential for moderate-to-heavy rain falling on the snow cover. "Very preliminary numbers, it looks like a half inch to 1 1/2 inches. With temperatures turning warmer out ahead of that system, the likelihood is there for potentially some significant flooding."

He added, "The storm for the middle of next week could produce moderate to heavy rains throughout the Midwest. This combined with melting snow in the northwest Midwest could produce another round of major flooding in the Missouri River Valley."

FIELDWORK CONTINUES TO BE DELAYED

The potential start of any spring fieldwork is being pushed further back, he said. Seeing how things are developing and what's coming in over the next seven days, fieldwork might be pushed into May, Palmerino said.

However, an area that appears to be doing well is the winter wheat crop in the Southern Plains.

"It's doing well. Clearly we see that by the crop ratings that keep on going up every week over the last few weeks," he said. Palmerino added the crop is breaking dormancy under very favorable moisture conditions. For example, Kansas soil moisture, compared to a year ago, is 1% short on the topsoil -- last year it was 70% short.

"It couldn't be any different in terms of all the moisture that crop has to develop."

Elaine Shein can be reached at elaine.shein@dtn.com

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